PERHAPS the most depressing part of Bafana Bafana’s shambolic 3-1 African Nations Cup Group D defeat against Tunisia at Tamale Sports Stadium on Sunday night is that, for once, you can’t even blame Safa.
The South African Football Association may be indirectly part of the problem in that they have not provided the development structures for emerging talent. But, directly, the much-maligned association had little to do with the Bafana defeat on Sunday that is threatening to plunge South African football into fresh chaos.
Bafana, on this trip, have had everything they needed. There was the hint of a pay dispute before the team left, but that was quickly quashed.
Their warm-ups were against two of the lower lights of southern African football, and the consequent victories were not treated as signs that these made South Africa favourites — as a 2-1 warm-up win over eventual Nations Cup victors Egypt was by caretaker-coach Ted Dumitru in 2006.
The preparations for Ghana went smoothly, with a two-week training camp in Durban where a specialist fitness trainer was brought in. Everyone seemed to be going about their jobs quite sensibly, including Safa.
So what has gone wrong? A campaign by a young, talented Bafana that was supposed to have provided some answers on the road to the 2010 World Cup has only posed more questions.
Are Bafana Bafana just not good enough? Why, then, were they able to play a decent 90 minutes and draw 1-1 against Angola in their opener, a team who went on to thrash Senegal 3-1 on Sunday? Following Angola’s victory, South African journalists were left more than ever deceiving themselves again that Bafana might have a chance against Tunisia, and progressing to the next round.
It took 34 minutes of insane, inexplicably erratic football to dispel any such myth, and for Bafana’s hopes to be dashed at 3-0 down.
Worryingly, the defeat seems to have left even South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira confused. Little can evoke nonsense-speaking from a Bafana coach quite like the prospect of yet another first-round exit from a Nations Cup, and even the Brazilian World Cup-winner does not seem immune.
After the game, Parreira said it was the switch to a two-striker system, with Terror Fanteni brought in to partner Sibusiso Zuma, that disrupted his team. He also claimed that the first goal conceded came too early. These are worryingly lame excuses from a R1,8 million-a-month coach.
South African footballers grow up in a 4-4-2 system practically from childbirth.
And after conceding the early goal, Bafana played probably their best football of the game until just after the half-hour, when two nightmare defensive errors by Nasief Morris gifted Tunisia the game.
Parreira would be better served to admit that his experiment with captain Aaron Mokoena in defensive midfield has not quite worked. To tamper with the central defensive partnership of Morris and Mokoena, who have played together for the last three years, just before a major tournament was courting disaster.
Stand-in Benson Mhlongo had a nightmare against Angola, and, while he improved markedly against Tunisia, on Sunday it was Morris’s turn to lose the plot. Then there was the finishing, which cost Bafana three points against Angola. One has to wonder if Benni McCarthy would have finished the two early chances against Angola that were missed by Surprise Moriri.
All is not lost for Bafana and Parreira. There is still a match to play and an outside chance, should SA beat Senegal by three goals and there is a decisive result either way between Tunisia and Angola, that South Africa will go through. But the chances of even a “not shell-shocked” Bafana winning 3-0 are always slim.
More important, for now, seems to be damage limitation. A good win against Senegal would at least make Ghana a largely improved competition from 2006, and South Africa narrow non-qualifiers. If Parreira were to be particularly adventurous, he would give a run to Lamontville Golden Arrows’ Kagisho Dikgacoi in midfield, and restore the Mokoena-Morris defensive partnership.
Teko Modise has been out of his depth at this level and should be dropped. Steven Pienaar, who was outstanding against Tunisia, could be moved into the central role. This would allow Parreira to bring Bryce Moon into a more attacking role on the right and find room in his line-up for the ever-impressive Lance Davids at right-back.
Parreira, though, is a rigid, conservative coach. One hopes for the best for Bafana from what will probably be their final match at this Nations Cup in Kumasi on Thursday, but the head suggest we should be ready for the worst.